Hey Joe

Hey Joe was a staple of garage bands in the 60's and a song that was recorded by many established artists. Only one group managed to put a single recording of it in the top forty.

The origins of Hey Joe are unclear. Most attribute the writing credits to Billy Roberts, either as the writer of the original song, or as someone who adapted a folk ballad, or as someone who heard a melody and changed the words. Billy Roberts was a West Coast songwriter. Through whatever means -- most likely an outright sale of the rights -- Dino Valenti began collecting royalties on Hey Joe. Valenti listed various names on songwriting credits, including Chester Powers, Chet Powers, and Jesse Oris Farrow.

Valenti was friends with David Crosby, who was well established with the Byrds; the group had two number one hits in the latter part of 1965 with Mr. Tambourine Man and Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is A Season). The Byrds played Hey Joe in some of their sets, and a short time later it was picked up by prominent Los Angeles area band Love and that group's leaders, Bryan MacLean and Arthur Lee. Its popularity began to spread, especially in the Los Angeles area.

Hey Joe was recorded in 1965 by the Surfaris, a surf band from Glendora, California that had a mega-hit two years earlier with Wipe Out, and by the Leaves, a very good Los Angeles-area garage band that was coming into some prominence in the mid-60's. The Leaves went back and recorded a second version in 1966. As the song was passed around, certain variations began to naturally take place. The Surfaris' version was actually called Hey Joe, Where Are You Going? and both renditions by the Leaves were titled Hey Joe, Where You Gonna Go? Regardless of what it was called, it is basically a story about premeditated murder. Most versions have a first verse that goes something like this:

Hey Joe, where you goin' with that gun in your hand?
Hey Joe, where you goin' with that gun in your hand?
I'm goin' down to shoot my old lady
I caught her messin' round with another man
I'm goin' down to shoot my old lady
I caught her messin' round with another man

Bands of all types were looking for material. Those groups that had someone associated with them who knew something about how to play the guitar recognized a good chord progression when they saw one, and it seemed that every good band on the West Coast was putting Hey Joe into its act. In the mid to late 60's the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles featured many prominent bands in the clubs that dotted Sunset Boulevard, among them the Byrds, Love, the Leaves, Iron Butterfly, the Mothers of Invention, and the Doors. One of these groups went back into the studio to record Hey Joe for a third time, in May 1966, and it was this version by the Leaves (this time titled Hey Joe) that entered the pop charts in June of that year. No longer just a popular song on the West Coast, the Leaves popularized Hey Joe to the point where it was picked up by Beatles-wanna-be garage bands across the country. It peaked at number 31.

The Leaves were an LA group that consisted of John Beck as lead singer along with Jim Pons, Bobby Arlin, Tom Ray and Robert Lee Reiner. They had been signed to the Mira label based on a recommendation from 50's pop idol Pat Boone. Many artists were doing Hey Joe and recorded it around the same time -- in addition to the Byrds, Love, and the Leaves, others included Tim Rose, and the Shadows of Knight.

Tim Rose's version was recorded shortly before the second version by the Leaves. Rose had his own take on the song, slowing the tempo and more-or-less shouting the lyrics. It was this version of Hey Joe that was picked up by Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix was one of the best guitar players of all time, and he liked Hey Joe. His recording, credited to the Jimi Hendrix Experience, became very popular in Europe.

The Leaves disbanded in 1967 and their bass player, Jim Pons, played with the Turtles for a while. Dino Valenti went on to write the Youngbloods' 1969 hit Get Together and a short time later became a member of Quicksilver Messenger Service, another group that recorded Hey Joe. He died in 1994.

Over the years Hey Joe has been recorded by hundreds of artists, some of them well-known, some of them not. Among them are Johnny Rivers, the Standells, the Music Machine, Billy Preston, Cher, Wilson Pickett, Bad Company, Deep Purple, and Los Lobos. The best remembered versions of Hey Joe are the third Mira recording by the Leaves, and of course, that done by the Jimi Hendrix Experience.

Most Recent Update: December 25, 2006

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